Sugar?, was a defiant ‘nothing about us without us’ piece of theatre, exploring the experience of being street homeless in Bristol. The show was written by using the real voices of the city’s homeless community. This excellent piece of theatre was more than worthy of its standing ovation, in a packed auditorium on the hottest day of the year so far.
Told through physical theatre, storytelling, acting, recorded sound and song, it might sound a bit wishy-washy when covering a topic that included everything from sleeping under bridges, drug addiction and attempted suicide. But, cleverly crafted to centre those voices in different situations, from genuinely funny stories, logistical difficulties and establishment issues, meant it packed an acerbic punch throughout.
Lily Bearwish, Belle Day, Anne Mowbray and Zoe Vearncombe are the creative team from Suspension Theatre and the people behind the show. Their aim is to ‘harness empathy and promote change’ with their work and they manage this brilliantly. Hearing the perspectives of street homeless people and how they are treated by members of the public makes you question if you yourself are guilty of othering them too.
Throughout the show, they take on the role and voices of actors in rehearsal, real homeless people, politicians and other people they encounter within systems of ‘support’.
Homelessness is something that can happen to anyone and this hits home hearing the bittersweet story about a couple sleeping in their car. They take time to explain how they must carefully arrange duvets and sleep closely together within the confines of the vehicle. They need to block out the draft that comes through the doors and cover their faces from the prying eyes of people outside.
A construction worker worries about his steel toe-cap boots being nicked when he sleeps at night in a hostel, so he keeps them securely under the pillow.
There are the worries and fears about being attacked in the city centre at night – not by other homeless people – but by those out drinking on Friday and Saturday nights who then spit at and kick them.
A homeless person describes the difficult feelings of seeing families walking past them when all they want in life is a duvet, pillow and a roast dinner. It’s not a lot to ask is it?
We have a section about embarrassing stories and this is the part where the company starts to set their cart out clearly. The part about public toilets and Bristol’s Community Toilet Scheme – or lack of it – deserved a standing ovation of its own. The scheme created to replace public toilet facilities is a hugely contentious issue in the city. The lack of toilets for homeless people to use is a massive issue for them, as is trying to follow a map of businesses apparently on the scheme except either aren’t, are not open or are not accessible to them.
This quickly flows into proud political voice overs delivered through RP and sock puppet, about how much housing has been built in the city over the last few years. It grows into a press conference with Boris Johnson which clearly shows the Prime Minister talking out of his arse.
We are bamboozled with the ridiculous bureaucracy of the Homechoice system. For this, you must meet specific criteria enabling you access to the bidding system of a Local Authority’s social housing. The forms, the red tape, the barriers. How you cannot flee a desperate situation or violence in one part of the country and turn up alone and isolated to start safely and anew in another.
Even Housing Associations don’t make it out unscathed. They are now gradually the replacement social housing provider supporting development and allocate in new ways that are not necessarily as effective as their historical purpose.
After a song coming from tea and sympathy and how you eat your biscuit, the show takes a tonal turn, making us check our own privilege.
We hear the recorded voice of a homeless person describing how he found a beautiful spot in a park. With the sound of nature washing over him and feeling at peace, he realised this was the spot he wanted to kill himself in and set about attempting to do so.
Sugar? Is a culmination of pertinent and pressing social issues in Bristol, all of which impact upon and create homelessness. Bristol has a housing crisis. A homelessness crisis. A drugs crisis. But it also has a people crisis and that crisis comes from inefficient systems set up by people for people under the guise of support which ultimately divides, others and destroys the lives of often very vulnerable people who only want a bed and roast dinner.
This is probably one of the most important pieces of theatre you will see this year.
For more information about Suspension Theatre, visit: https://suspensiontheatre.org.uk